RENTER TOOLKIT

Our free renter toolkit provides you with a set of useful resources and teaches you the keys to successful renting.

See the links below for information regarding housing assistance and legal assistance as well as tips for renters. These pointers cover the basics, from credit scores to finding a rental to getting your deposit back when you move out.

Willie and Mikaia Brown

HOUSING ASSISTANCE

There are a variety of housing assistance programs available to low- and middle-income households in Montana.

Subsidized housing is available to low-income households, seniors and people with disabilities. Tenants pay no more than 30% of their monthly income toward rent. HUD pays the remaining amount. If you have no income, you pay nothing. Subsidized housing is usually offered via waitlist. Affordable housing is offered at rents below the market rate. Affordable housing can be offered via waitlist or first come, first served. If you get on a waiting list for either type of housing, be sure to notify the list’s administrator if your address changes.

There are also properties and programs set aside for individuals or families experiencing homelessness.

Housing Choice Vouchers make private-market housing affordable for low-income families and individuals. The Missoula Housing Authority administers Housing Choice Vouchers—commonly called Section 8 after the section of the United States Housing Act of 1937 that authorizes them—and forms a partnership with participants and landlords to provide housing opportunities throughout the city of Missoula and a 10-mile radius outside the city limits.

Section 8 Rental Assistance provides for rent subsidies to qualified low-income households in Mineral, Missoula and Ravalli County households to provide safe, decent, affordable housing. If you make 50% or less of the HUD median income.

Montana Emergency Rental Assistance Program supports Montanans who have experienced financial hardships directly, indirectly or during the COVID-19 pandemic and are at risk of housing instability.

LEGAL ASSISTANCE

Are you facing an unfair eviction? Have you experienced housing-related discrimination? Free civil legal information, forms, advice and free or low-cost representation are available.

Montana Fair Housing promotes and ensures non-discrimination in Montana through outreach, education, dispute resolution and enforcement. If you think your rights have been violated, contact Montana Fair Housing as soon as possible. A complaint must be filed with the Montana Human Rights Bureau within 180 days of the alleged violation.
Montana Legal Services and the Montana Department of Commerce’s Montana Eviction Intervention Project (MEIP) provides tenants facing court-ordered eviction with free legal representation. Its goal is to help tenants secure rental assistance, navigate the justice system, negotiate with landlords and avoid eviction.
The Montana Attorney General’s Office’s Landlord/Tenant Rules includes general information to assist landlords and renters in the state. That office, however, is prohibited from providing legal advice or representation to individuals and does not handle complaints related to landlord-tenant disputes.

ASUM Legal Services has provided low-cost legal assistance to eligible students of the University of Montana since 1975. They provide legal advice, assistance and sometimes attorney representation on a variety of legal matters, including landlord-tenant issues.

ASMSU Legal Services is a collaboration between the Associated Students of Montana State University (ASMSU) and Cromwell Law, PLLC to offer Montana State University students affordable legal services. If you are an MSU or Gallatin College student, you can meet with one of their experienced lawyers. They offer legal advice for a wide range of legal issues including landlord-tenant issues.

RENTER TIPS

Here are some of our suggestions to help you avoid eviction, build good credit and overall have a positive experience as a renter.

Your credit score and credit history may affect whether or not a landlord approves your rental application. There are three major credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can pull your free annual credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com.

If you notice an error on one of your credit reports, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has clear, step-by-step instructions and sample letters to help you dispute incorrect credit report information.

To learn more about credit scores and reports and how to improve your credit score, we highly recommend that you take our free, statewide Financial Skill Building class. If you’ve completed this class, you can also sign up for our free, individualized one-on-one financial counseling.

MTHousingSearch.com offers some great tools for calculating what you can afford to rent as well as your moving costs.

For more help determining your budget, we highly recommend that you take our free, statewide Financial Skill Building class. If you’ve completed this class, you can also sign up for our free, individualized one-on-one financial counseling.

MTHousingSearch.com is a statewide housing locator service. Sponsored by the Montana Board of Housing, MTHousingSearch.com provides detailed information about rental properties and helps people find housing to best fit their needs. The service can be accessed at no cost online 24 hours a day or through a toll-free, bilingual call center at 1-877-428-8844, available Monday-Friday, 6 a.m. – 5 p.m. MST.

You can use the rental checklist tool to make sure that the home you’re considering has everything you need.

The lease is a legally binding document that reflects state and local laws. When you sign a lease, you’re agreeing to comply with the terms of that contract. If your landlord discovers that you are violating any part of the lease, you can be evicted from the property. For example, if you sneak a dog into your rental that doesn’t allow pets, this would be considered breaking the terms of your lease and could lead to eviction.

It’s important to understand your lease, so read it thoroughly. It should include information such as who is responsible to shovel snow in the winter or who replaces the lightbulbs when they burn out.

If you have any questions about the lease agreement, talk to the landlord. You should understand and be comfortable with the requirements before you sign the lease and move in.

Many private landlords appreciate a check-in from time to time. Some landlords or property management companies send out notices or put letters in mailboxes. If a landlord or property manager reaches out to you with a request to respond, it is critical that you do so. Ignoring something will not make it go away, nor will it buy you time if you are facing eviction.

If you live in a Homeword property managed by Tamarack Property Management, we encourage renters to share ideas, concerns and positive or negative feedback through their Resident Grievance Report. A link to that information, which is on Tamarack’s public website, is also provided to all new renters in the Resident Handbook: House Rules booklet. Submitting a Grievance Report allows the appropriate parties to have documentation to move forward with a resolution or other necessary actions.

Other property management companies may have similar processes to submit feedback. Contact your landlord or property manager to find out their preferred mode for receiving feedback from you.

Landlords have bills to pay, too. Your rent covers many aspects of the home, not just the space. Sometimes rent includes utilities, even ones you might not think about such as sewer. The main cost rent usually covers is a mortgage, which is a type of loan used to buy a home or other type of real estate. The property itself serves as collateral for the loan.

Most leases come with a rent grace period. This is especially useful if you are looking to pay rent and perhaps a check has not cleared yet, or you are waiting for your paycheck. This will usually be included in the part of the lease that refers to the cost of rent. For example, on my lease it says: “…rent will be late on the 3rd day of the month at 5 p.m.” Again, all leases are different, so it is important to check your lease.

Late fees should be avoided and will happen after the rent grace period if your lease has one. Late fees will not only cost you more but can also negatively impact your credit score. Paying on time helps you build good credit by showing that you have a positive payment history. That could help potential creditors look more favorably on you down the road if you decide you want to take out a loan for a car or purchase a home.

Your home must meet certain standards for safety, health and cleanliness, and, typically, this is covered in one of the lease clauses. If you have roommates, create a plan to divide up the chores to make sure that living spaces, fixtures and appliances are kept sanitary and tidy. Here are a few major items you should stay on top of:

  • Dispose of trash properly. Do not let trash or clutter to pile up in or around the property because it can be a safety and fire hazard. Rotting food can attract rodents or bugs, and you could be held responsible for pest control fees. You could also be held responsible if your trash and clutter in the hallway or other common areas causes someone to trip and get injured.
  • Avoid allowing water or moisture to build up to the point where mold growth could occur. If water is accumulating due to a leaky pipe, report the issue to your landlord immediately.
  • Clean up any messes your pet(s) may have caused, and dispose of pet waste properly.

Make sure to promptly notify your landlord if anything is wrong with the home or if anything is in need of repair. If you don’t report that something is broken or damaged, it could lead to further and more expensive damage for which you could be held accountable. Be sure to notify your landlord in writing via email, text or hard copy letter, and keep a record of when you contacted your landlord about the issue and the information you provided to them.

Here are a few ways you can prevent major issues:

  • Don’t flush wipes, even those marketed as “flushable,” because they can cause damage to the plumbing.
  • Ventilate your bathroom after you take a shower to reduce mold and mildew growth.
  • Rinse your dishes to keep your dishwasher from getting clogged.
  • It is your responsibility to maintain carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors in good working order during your rental period, so check approximately every six months to make sure they are working. You can change the batteries yourself if they need replacing. If you are unable to reach the smoke detector, contact your landlord.

Information regarding how long visitors can stay in your rental home is something that should be in the lease agreement.

According to federal occupancy law, landlords are required to allow two people per bedroom. Sometimes it is not as simple as that, however. Landlords must also consider:

  • The size of the bedroom(s) and unit.
  • Presence and ages of children.
  • Format and configuration of the unit.
  • The capacity of the septic tank, sewer, or other building systems.
  • The Fair Housing Act which prohibits any discrimination.

Sometimes state and local laws allow even more people in the rental than the federal law does. There may also be specifics for the number of square feet required for children and adults, respectively.

Depending on the neighborhood your rental property is in, the zoning board may have certain codes that limit the number of people (or relationships between people) that may reside in rental dwellings.

Federal, state and local laws, as well as your lease or rental agreement, can restrict or ban smoking in a rental unit.

A clear no-smoking policy prohibits all forms of smoking, including smoking marijuana for medical reasons. A landlord who has included a no-smoking policy in a lease or rental agreement can terminate the tenancy of or evict a tenant who smokes.

Visit the Department of Public Health and Human Services Montana Smokefree Housing page for more information and resources.

Potentially the best way to avoid misunderstandings and create a safe and enjoyable community is by getting to know your neighbors. Talking with your neighbors when there are no problems will make it easier to approach them when one does arise.

It’s best to avoid a knee-jerk reaction if a neighbor’s loud music wakes your child up from a nap or they are constantly forgetting to remove their clothing from the dryer in a timely manner. If it continues to happen, however, talk to your neighbor about preventing the issue in the future at a time when you are not feeling heated about it.

If problems persist even after chatting with your neighbor or you have a disagreement, it is extremely important not to escalate the situation with a verbal or physical confrontation. This could lead to police involvement and possible eviction. Instead, make sure to report to your landlord any issues you have with neighbors, and document everything in writing.

You should also consider how your behavior might be affecting your neighbors. Are you following the terms of your lease and being a good neighbor?

Your landlord is not responsible for the loss or theft of your personal property. You can protect yourself by getting renters insurance so you are covered in the event of theft or fire. Ask your insurance agent or landlord about where to get renters insurance.

When you are ready to leave your rental home, you should send your landlord advance written notice that you are moving out. The move-out date should occur within an agreed timeframe that abides by the rental agreement.

You should also leave the rental in the clean and damage-free condition it was when you moved in. Arrange a walk-through inspection of the unit with your property manager on your move-out day to make sure there are no issues.

Following these guidelines will help you get your security deposit back and a good reference from your landlord for your next rental.

If it has been more than 30 days and you have not yet received your security deposit or received less than you think your landlord owes you, you can send a complaint to get your security deposit back.